Social Networking for Dentists—Made Easy!

By now you’ve probably heard of Facebook and/or MySpace. If you are really techno-savvy, you may have written a blog and heard of Twitter. You may even have heard of NewDocs. As a dentist, you are a practitioner taking care of patients and enhancing your clinical skills. As a manager, you oversee a team of healthcare providers. As a business owner, you are charting the course of your business and leading it into the future. The reality is that most dentists do not have the time to learn what all the hoopla about social networking means, and what the implication is for them personally, other dentists, and for the profession.
The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the social networking phenomenon. It can be used as a guide for dentists attempting to navigate the current social networking landscape. Let’s get started!

WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA?
Social media is usually referred to as user-generated content (UGC). If you have ever posted a message on an online discussion board, you’ve created UGC. Have you ever seen a video on YouTube (a free video sharing Web site)? That’s UGC as well. Social media is an amazingly powerful form of communicating allowing users to share ideas, information, and content on the Web. It blends current Web technology with good old-fashioned sociology to transform people from consumers of information to publishers of content. It builds new relationships and strengthens interaction among groups. Social media is all about crowd participation!

DENTISTRY EMBRACES USER-GENERATED CONTENT
Dentistry is adapting to embrace social media. Search YouTube and you will find an enormous number of videos pertaining to the dental field. 3M ESPE was one of the first dental manufacturers to recognize the value of social media, establishing user groups for dentists on NewDocs, and pages for its Impregum impression material on LinkedIn, Facebook (more on these later), and Twitter. Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia created completely from UCG, is full of dental specific information from abscesses to xylitol. Patients are searching the Web and finding UCG to help them understand their oral health. Dentists, dental associations, and dental organizations are connecting, sharing, and collaborating everyday by created "groups" on social networks, like NewDocs. By using the tools of social networking platforms dentistry is becoming interconnected like never before. The ability for individuals and groups to disseminate knowledge across the Web using multiple outlets allows information to reach audiences quickly and in a wide variety of formats.

WHAT IS A SOCIAL NETWORK?
Social networking has been around for ages. For as long as humans have walked the earth, we have been social creatures. We pride ourselves on family, and form groups in order to survive. These groups not only allow us to survive, but also thrive and lead to new ideas/innovations. Social groups, which used to be mostly physical and local in nature, encompass everything from Rotary clubs to bowling leagues. With the advent of the Internet, people all of the sudden had the world at their fingertips. My dad, who is 72, said to me, "The Internet is amazing! This little box on my desk can show me the world." That about sums it up; the Internet gives you information at your fingertips—on demand!
Well, the Internet, and some other factors, led to the diminishment of local groups and group activities. People have become free to "roam the world" from the comfort of our own houses at any time. However, we still yearn for something that we need very much—connection. It is hardwired into our development as humans. The Internet fragmented us, but human needs will not be denied. Just as the Internet diminished human grouping, it is now bringing us together like never before. Explore how online social networking is making a difference in all facets of human life.

How to Use NewDocs
Register on NewDocs.com and choose an "avatar" (profile picture).
Fill in your profile.
Explore the site by "clicking around." Be sure to click on other users’ avatars.
Make "Friends."
Join a group/study club or create one yourself.
Invite your professional friends and colleagues to join NewDocs. This will grow your network.

COMPONENTS OF ONLINE SOCIAL NETWORKING
Online social networking has begun to garner much press in the past few years. However, it has been around in various forms for nearly a decade. There are many reasons online social networks are formed and they all exhibit a common set of characteristics.

Profile
Each member of a social network has the opportunity to create an online profile. These profiles serve as your identity on the network. In short, they are your online CV. Some social networks are strictly professional with only business information listed, such as education and training. Others have more of a personal approach with information about personal experiences such as trips and activities. Some social networks are a blend of business and personal. Most sites give you the ability to share this information, keep it private for "friends" only, or skip filling it in altogether. I would encourage you to fill in only that with which you are comfortable. Social networks are about sharing, and your experience will be enhanced when completing your profile.

Friends
"Friends" are the foundation of any social network. Just like in real life, your online friends become part of your social fabric. Online friends are able to keep up to date on your actions on the social network. For example, if you write a blog or comment on a picture, your friends are updated on your activity. Likewise, if your friends comment in a forum or post a picture, you are notified of these activities. This is called an "activity feed." So, the more friends you have the more opportunities you have to connect, collaborate, share, and learn. Online social networks have features that enable you to ask people to be your "friends" and start building relationships and social networks easily.

Groups
Online groups represent like-minded individuals coming together for collaboration, connections, sharing, and learning about a specific topic. Dentistry has been called a cottage profession because the predominant model of practice is solo practice. Organizations representing dentists are challenged by this fact because of the lack of connectivity within the profession. Another challenge is connecting and collaborating when spread out by geography and practicing in different time zones. Online groups and online study clubs provide a way to share knowledge, meet other dentists with similar interests, access a calendar of events, upload and share files, and upload pictures and videos. Examples of groups/study clubs would be "extractions made simple," "Oregon Dental Association," or "group practice brainstorm." For dentists, this means we can now practice solo while having the benefit of knowledge sharing and connectivity to a specific group that may be of interest to us.
Online social networks are powerful tools. They have taken the Web from static Web pages and question and answer forums (Web 1.0) to a dynamic, ever developing connected network of individuals who willingly share knowledge, interests, and professional goals (Web 2.0).

EXAMPLES OF ONLINE SOCIAL
LinkedIn

Mostly for the corporate and business-minded crowd, LinkedIn has a mature user type which is interested in business networking. The profile reads almost like a resume so that users can quickly grasp the talents of other members. When you join LinkedIn, you invite your business contacts to join. Once your business contacts join, you then have access to their professional contacts and they have access to yours. It’s a great way to find people who your contacts have worked with, and may possess certain skills or talents that you may be interested in as well. Personally, I have joined LinkedIn, but I do not use it much at this point.

Facebook
Originally, Facebook started as a way for college students to stay connected and to share class notes. It has grown (adding about 5 million new members a week) to cover more than just college students and has over 150 million members. It’s clearly organized, for everyone, and about everything. The amount of information on Facebook is staggering: 600 million searches and 30 billion page views a month. Facebook has leaped to the forefront of the social networking revolution. I’ve had childhood friends find me, and I have reconnected with high school buddies. Facebook is a great way to stay connected and also reconnect with the people throughout your life. It has features like photo sharing, online chat, groups, and, of course, the ever growing friends list. Once you are on Facebook, it is inevitable you will be contacted by someone from your past. Once your "friend" list grows, you’ll be kept up-to-date regarding their activities on the site. This can sometimes be overwhelming due to the shear amount of updates and information shared. I enjoy using Facebook to keep in contact with my personal friends, and it can also be used professionally like LinkedIn. However, I find it difficult to sift through all of the nondental chatter to find what I am looking for professionally.

MySpace
If you have used MySpace, perhaps you might think it is geared toward a younger crowd. At least that is my perception. Grade school, middle school, and high school are represented well here, as well as, many musicians. MySpace allows for lots of customizations to your profile page. There are many bells and whistles from which to choose. It is like having a blank slate on which you can create your own personalized "look" to your profile. After all, your profile is your online identity, so why not customize it to your liking?
I found I preferred Facebook’s organization over MySpace’s organized chaos for my personal interactions. Perhaps it’s just the dentist in me.

PROFESSIONAL SOCIAL NETWORKS
People join social networks to find commonality with others. After sifting through grade school friends, high school friends, college friends, musicians, and friends of friends on Facebook/MySpace you may find some professional commonality. Or you may just get too tired of sifting through all of the nonprofessional chatter. What makes Facebook and MySpace so great is also what hinders professional connection. Facebook and MySpace are for everyone and about nothing in particular. Enter professional social networks. In late 2007, and into 2008, these networks came onto the Web scene in order to fill a very necessary niche—provide a place where professionals and professional organizations can connect, collaborate, share, form groups, make their own professional "friends," and become part of a professional online social network.
Professional social networks are focused on a particular profession and only a particular profession. You will not find any spam-filled teenage chatter on these. This is the way of the Web: At one time it was a big deal to have a Web page, but now even a 2-year-old can have his/her own Web page. Momentum once reserved for large social networks without a focus is currently moving into niche social networks about specific interests.

EXAMPLES OF PROFESSIONAL SOCIAL NETWORKS
NewDocs

NewDocs is the professional social network for the dental profession. It is like Facebook, except it is for dentists. (Sermo is the professional social network for medical doctors. Lawlink is for lawyers.) NewDocs is about dentistry, and only about dentistry. You will not find (or be found by) high school classmates here. Like Facebook, you will find a clean and organized appearance. Your profile is a combination of your professional life and some personal interests. You can join professional "groups" or online study clubs on NewDocs. You will also have the opportunity to create your own group. This group study club feature is extremely powerful since it can serve as your very own online meeting place. Think of it as your own "mini social network." Share files, use the calendar of events, collaborate, and discuss the topics of your choice. The "group" feature can be open to anyone on NewDocs, or you can keep it private and invite only your "friends."
NewDocs also gives you the opportunity to blog. If you have certain information about a particular subject matter, you are able to post a blog. For those unfamiliar with blogs, they are basically online articles/research you can post to a site that allows others to comment on them. There is also a forum section for questions and answers, open to all members. The download section on NewDocs has many useful tools, forms, sample contracts, business plans, etc.

GETTING STARTED IN PROFESSIONAL SOCIAL NETWORKING
It is easy to get started in professional social networking. As a dentist, I created NewDocs to be completely about dentistry and our profession. Visit NewDocs.com, register (it’s free), and choose a profile image. Your profile image or "avatar" is your online representation of yourself. Some people use self-portraits or other pictures. Feel free to get creative. I usually use portraits or some photo that includes me in it. This usually takes only about one minute.
Once registered, be sure to fill in your profile. Your profile is your online identity. This identity will allow others on the site to connect with you and help you find common interests. Once you have established your profile, explore the site. As they say in the Web world "click around" and have fun with it. You won’t break anything. To see other user’s profiles, click on their "avatar." You’ll be able to see their profile, mutual friends, friends, photos, groups, and any blogs/forum posts that they have written. If you see something in common with other "docs" as you explore their profiles, feel free to click "add a friend" under their picture on the profile page. Making "friends" is very important because doing this will allow you to take full advantage of what social networks have to offer.
Once you’ve explored the site, join a group/study club or 2 or 3 groups/study clubs will allow you to connect, collaborate, and share with others over a common subject or cause. You can easily build your "friend" list here and focus on what is important to you and others with similar interests. If you don’t see a group/study club you are interested in, feel free to create your own.
If you’re an association leader, or interested in having a professional online meeting place for you organization, you can use the tools on NewDocs to create your organization’s own social network that is both private and secure. Your association can now have its own professional space to connect, share, and collaborate.
The tools on NewDocs make it very easy to create and manage your own group or study club. NewDocs gives you the power and freedom to decide what you want and how you want it. Manage a local study club or dental society by keeping all of your members up to date on new documents, happenings, events, discussions, etc. The best part is you don’t even need to know how to create a Web page to do this!
After you’ve accomplished the above, you’re ready to move to the next level and invite other professional friends and colleagues to join NewDocs. The power of professional social networking lies in the users and the activity of those on the site. The more people you can connect with the more you will get out of NewDocs.

SUMMARY
Professional social networks are making it easier for dentists to connect, collaborate, and share. They are making it easier for associations to put their message in front of dentists on a social network for dentistry—exclusively about dentistry. For those dentists looking to manage a study club or a dental association, the tools on NewDocs make it not only easy but fun for all of its members. Start today, and find out why professional social networking is changing our professional world!


Dr. Marut maintains a private practice in Ashland, Ore. He is the founder of NewDocs, the professional social network for dentistry. He is considered a leading expert in professional social networking and Web 2.0 in dentistry. Dr. Marut is available to answer any questions about the social networking phenomenon at danmarutdmd@newdocs.com.

 

Disclosure: Dr. Marut is the founder of NewDocs.com.

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